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Aboriginal awards honour students

Shyama Priya,  a pow wow dancer, performs at the awards ceremony. - Contributed
Shyama Priya, a pow wow dancer, performs at the awards ceremony.
— image credit: Contributed

A young woman who has been forced to grow up in a hurry was one of the winners at the annual Aboriginal Achievement Awards.

Each year the awards recognize the most impressive efforts of aboriginal students in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School district.

One of the major award winners was Darian Robertson, who took home the coveted Spirit Eagle Award, given to students who show spirit.

Scott Ormiston, the secondary aboriginal resource teacher, uses words like “mature,” “adult” and “motivated” to describe her. Many of the circumstances that led to her winning the reward are personal and confidential, he said.

“She has overcome many personal challenges with a strong will and incredible perseverance, and graduated from MRSS with a Dogwood diploma,” he said. “Robertson is living independently with her partner, who is employed full-time, and they are eagerly looking forward to the birth of their son in August.

“The title of the award is a ‘spirit’ award, and we’ve seen these kinds of circumstances overcome and bury other kids,” he said.

She got support from the school system, but Ormiston said she is the kind of person who “takes a small break and runs with it.”

Christine Ahern, a district youth worker, said Robertson is a good example for all students who find themselves in tough circumstances.

“Darian is kind-hearted, very responsible, and she has learned some great life skills over the years,” she said. “She’s reliable, she’s dependable and she’s worked very hard in our program.”

Ahern said the grad is interested in massage therapy, but plans to remain involved in the pregnant and parenting team program.

“The girls get to be together, and that sense of belonging is huge for them – to have friends in the same circumstances as them.”

Robertson said the program is important to all the girls involved, who might otherwise give up school.

“It empowers them, to have a place where they can be open, and just be themselves, and to know that it’s a not a total sin to be young and pregnant.”

Robertson was shocked to hear her name announced for the prestigious award.

“It means a lot. It has been a pretty difficult road,” she said. “I’m very thankful for it – it was a really awesome experience.”

She said the awards night affected her in a personal way.

“It’s uplifting for my spirit, to be able to say ‘I’m Métis, and I’m proud.’”

The Kwantlen Community Impact award was won by Andrew Britton of SRT. The Grade 12 student has taken on a leadership and mentoring role at school. On his own time he volunteers to supervise a Grade 3 student at Albion elementary, and assists students with special needs who participate in shop classes.

When not at school, Andrew is very involved in air cadets. He has been a member for the past six years and has done many hours of volunteer work in the community. For the past six years he has been a member of the honor guard for the local Remembrance Day ceremonies.  He has also volunteered to carry the Canadian flag at B.C. Lions football games, Vancouver Titans basketball, and Vancouver Whitecaps soccer games.

In recognition of his volunteer time he was asked to assist with the Grey Cup Ring Ceremony in 2012.

The Katzie Si-Yan Cultural Leadership Award was won by Emerald UnRuh of Westview secondary.

She is an ambitious honours student focused on the empowerment of youth through education and culture.

UnRuh is the youth representative for the Golden Ears Métis Society, and helps Métis youth connect to their culture.  A highlight was arranging to have well-known Métis author Maria Campbell speak to Métis youth, with a gathering and potluck to celebrate the occasion. She has worked to provide opportunities for youth that include a weekend of first aid training and a jigging competition.

There were six students who were recognized for winning the award of excellence in five consecutive school years: Gabrielle Bachand and Jared Dunlop of MRSS, Rhea Loveless and Megan Oishi of SRT, and Duncan Stefurak and Jamie Whitford of PMSS.

Paul Sage-Brownlow of Blue Mountain elementary won a $75 gift certificate as the Elementary School Logo competition winner, and Tristan Florence from Pitt Meadows secondary won a $200 cheque as the senior logo winner.

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